Professor Barnabas Buck was murdered in a home invasion, stabbed in the chest, his townhouse rifled. The police contacted Dixie Norton, his sister, as next of kin. Faced with the daunting prospect of clearing up the details of his life, she called a bunch of people in his address book to see if anyone was willing to help.
Three of them met her for lunch at The Spread, a slightly racy coffee shop near his home in Marlbeth.
Detective Terry Fox. An indifferently skilled property crimes detective with good connections in the department and a refined sense of survival and self interest. He knew Buck from when they were both in the army in the late 80s.
Truc “Rigs” Trang. A tough slaughterhouse worker with a hobby of illegal bare-knuckle boxing, and a past working as a burgler. He once broke into Buck’s house, and instead of going to jail the prof put him on the path to gainful employment and familiarity with a social worker.
Victoria “ViX” Wallace. She owns a low key shop known as the Blue Bottle in Irvine, selling herbal compounds and alternative medicine to hippies and psychedelic travelers. She supplied Buck with exotic compounds for his colleages’ research into altered mental states, and he funded an expedition where the two of them went to Central America chasing legends of dream roots.
According to them, Buck was an optimist and a people person. But he had a dark side; he was certain the future would have failures and darkness, he had a dismal side. He also suffered from compassion fatigue as people disappointed him far too often. He was kind of a ninny. He got into drugs instead of just passing them along. And, he was a bit grabby with the pretty ladies. Still, all in all he was a decent man always on the lookout for another “fixer upper” person he could help.
Anyway, Buck’s sister Dixie was grateful for any help they could offer with packing up his townhouse. Buck’s friends were very kind to her; she got the contact information for a non-terrifying Uber driver, and a relaxing mixture to help her nerves (she bonded with ViX right away.)
Buck’s Place–The Scene of the Crime
They arrived at the townhouse and bypassed the police tape, casually surveying the mess and helping themselves to the beer in the fridge.
Terry noted the police work was pretty sloppy; post-its for scale and numbering, the detective probably took pictures of the scene with his cell phone. (His card was on the table; Det. Fletcher Sanders with the Saville precinct.)
ViX checked out the bathroom, finding the “secret stash” of illicit pills and emergency cash in the toilet water tank, and some tame porn.
Truc relied on his background on a burglar to quietly find an untouched man-bag that neither the thieves nor the police had discovered. Inside was his appointment book, among other things. Also, Truc noted that there was a wall safe ripped out of the wall, from behind a painting in the “guest room” upstairs.
And Truc remembered there were some moleskine journals prominent on a shelf (that had been tossed on the floor.) There had been nearly 20 of them that the professor had used for his personal reflections and research on an annual basis. They were gone, which made no sense in a burglary.
After a quick run to the alley behind a local liquor store to get some boxes, Buck’s friends took a break to enjoy a beer and consider how this simple burglary didn’t quite make sense.
The Appointment Book
Sifting the last bit of the appointment book, they saw some unusual activity.
- January 4, Monday. Busy day cleared with no explanation.
- January 6, Wednesday. “Barber, 9 Coffees” at 10:00 a.m.
- January 7, Thursday. “Kimball, Lab” at 4:00 p.m.
- January 11, Monday. Busy day cleared with no explanation.
- January 12, Tuesday. “Cook, Filex Building” at 10:00 a.m.
Buck was killed on the night of Friday, January 8. His friends were standing in the dead man’s apartment rifling his things in the afternoon of Monday, January 11.
ViX called Dixie back to ask about entries in Buck’s address book (which is how she found all them, after all.) Fox was impressed at her cunning as she told Dixie the idea was to let people know he would not be coming to scheduled appointments.
- “Dr. Alex Kimball” was faculty at Marlbeth University.
- “Dr. Lilly Cook, EPA” at the government building on Downtown Island.
- “Nine Coffees” is a known coffee shop Downtown, but “Barber” just had the entry “Dowler Bridge.”
They called Dr. Cook but talked to her assistant, Wilcox. He said she wasn’t available, and took Terry’s information so she could call him back.
They reached a consensus that “Barber” was probably a fixer-upper “troll” living under the bridge. Intrigued, they decided to see if they could find Barber. They took more of Buck’s beer, and headed out. Both Terry and Truc drove.
On the way, Truc called one of his underworld buddies, Pink Spot (a pimp, and fence.) Truc asked if any books showed up, like from a professor. Spot only knew about the professor that was all over the news, just got killed in a hit and run in Marlbeth an hour ago. Truc turned on the radio, and called the others on the phone, telling them to do the same. According to the news, the victim was Dr. Kimball.
As they got close to the bridge, they got snarled in traffic. Some truck driver T-boned a cattle car, and now emergency services had jaws of life and rifles to sort out the screaming cattle pinned in the intersection. Terry used his police light, putting it on the roof, and drove on the sidewalk to get out of the congestion.
They parked in an abandoned lot by the “closed for service” light rail station, and climbed down into the ravine that Dowler Bridge spanned. Approaching the bridge, they found about two dozen homeless in the area, tending burning trash barrels and lurking in the shadows.
They closed in in a man loudly talking to himself, his dog, or someone on bluetooth (turns out his name was Bluetooth.) They said they were looking for Barber, and that frightened him. So, Truc threatened him while DiX offered him beers. He said they needed to talk to Haywood Farley, the man in the yellow plaid coat. As they looked over at him, Farley took off. Because Bluetooth was only partly useful, instead of him getting both beers, Terry took one back. Yeah, what do you expect from cops?
From Farley to Barber
Truc ran Farley down, knocking him flat and straddling him. Farley peed in self-defense, and also brandished a knife, but that was no protection. They questioned him about Barber, and he explained.
Some men dressed in black came down here to find Barber. They knew enough to look for his yellow coat. But he had loaned it to Kathie Decker, and the assassins stabbed her to death instead. Now Farley wore the coat in case the assassins came back; he would see them coming, and escape. The knife he had was the one used to kill Decker; it was left behind when the homeless ganged up in the assassins and chased them off.
Terry took a liking to Farley, surprised he was so clever. Farley explained he used to be a hedge fund manager, but his wife got cancer, then he got sick, and now he’s homeless. Life’s rough all around.
They insisted they needed to talk to Barber, and they were friends of Buck, and he was killed. Also another professor. Terry, as a policeman was investigating. Farley compromised, taking ViX only, to a nearby alleyway.
While the men waited, ViX was escorted to an alley where Barber sheltered in a candle-lit dumpster. He got her phone number and said he’d call her in the morning; for $1,000 he would tell his story. But he didn’t trust anyone right now. She agreed, and returned to the others. They parted ways for the night.
The next morning they met at Nine Coffees, downtown. Terry fronted most of the money for the $1,000 to pay Barber, and Buck’s stash covered some, and the rest was grudgingly managed by ViX.
Since they last met, Terry went to the precinct station in Seville and asked to see the case file on Buck’s death. He charmed his way past Anna Duwitt, the secretary, and they planned to have dinner and drinks soon.
The file yielded little useful information, taken in haste. The murder was shortly after 10:00 p.m. on Friday, January 8th. The open door attracted the attention of a neighbor, Elliott Ross.
The file also indicated that the night after the murder the police caught Carl Edwards, a home invader, in the act of stealing from a residence three streets over from Buck’s place. Edwards swore he was not responsible for Buck’s killing, but as of 4:00 that afternoon, forensics confirmed the knife was probably the murder weapon. Less than a week until the arraignment, no bail posted.
When Terry looked at the pictures, he saw the lethal injury was one thrust to the center of the chest with a knife; a quick, deliberate kill.
Truc had actually spent several hours boxing things up before going home last night.
Barber called them, and found that they had money for him. He strolled into the coffee shop, cheeky and cleaned up (so he looked like a hipster with his full, flowing beard and flannel.)
Once he saw the money, he was ready to tell his story.
Barber saw a team of armed professionals scanning an area for something, and collecting samples. Investigating in their wake, he found flakes of some kind of black mineral.
Trying to monetize the discovery, he approached an open-minded academic, Buck. Together they went scavenging for more of the mineral, getting a decent haul. Buck was going to get it analyzed. He bought all Barber had found off him in one purchase. After Buck started making inquiries around, that’s when the killers came for Barber, and caught up to Buck, and his doctor friend.
Demonstrating a dramatic flair, Barber rose (after taking their money) then told them the site where he found the black mineral was Plantagenet Chemical. Then he swept out.
All Grifton natives know about Plantagenet Chemical, a factory that exploded in 1988 and famously polluted a huge area of factories and slaughterhouses. So, that pronouncement had an ominous edge.